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Production and characterization of slow pyrolysis biochar from lignin-rich digested stillage from lignocellulosic ethanol production

Ghysels, Stef, Ronsse, Frederik, Dickinson, Dane, Prins, Wolter
Biomass and bioenergy 2019 v.122 pp. 349-360
Populus, biochar, biorefining, ethanol, ethanol production, feedstocks, guidelines, lignin, lignocellulose, nutrients, pyrolysis, soil amendments, statistics, straw, temperature
Lignin-rich digested stillage as a novel feedstock for biochar production was subjected to slow pyrolysis. The lignin residue stemmed from a lignocellulosic ethanol pilot run with poplar, from which the stillage was anaerobically digested prior to pyrolysis. Pyrolysis conditions were optimized to meet guidelines put forth by the International Biochar Initiative and the European Biochar Certificate (molar H/Corg ratio <0.7 and O/Corg ratio <0.4), as biochar could be carbon-negative upon soil amendment, while reallocating nutrients to the field. Bench-scale pyrolysis of the lignin residue and straw were conducted according to a 33 factorial design with center runs (ranges: 370–450 °C highest treatment temperature, 5–45 min holding time and 5–50 °C.min−1 heating rate). Parametric and nonparametric statistics revealed that the highest treatment temperature was by far the most influencing factor for both feedstocks which ‘pushed’ H/C and O/C ratios within the desired range. Lignin-based biochar can be obtained with 50.7% yield, a H/C ratio of 0.70 and an O/C ratio of 0.20, already at 384 °C. This is considerably better when compared to straw-based biochar with identical H/C and O/C ratios, which came with a lower yield (33.7%) and required a modestly higher temperature (410 °C). Results from this study emphasize the feasibility to integrate slow pyrolysis in a lignocellulosic biorefinery.